Greg Horn's Olympic Adventure

Tue, August 24th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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The 2004 USA Basketball Olympic Team,
Illustrated by Greg Horn


Front row: Tim Duncan, Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Lebron James, Richard Jefferson


Back Row: Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Dwayne Wade, Lamar Odom, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Emeka Okafor

In Athens, Greece, the competition at the Games of the 28th Olympiad has been fierce. For just two weeks, athletes who've spent their entire lives training for these events are battling for the coveted Gold medal. The USA has excelled at the pool behind behind the remarkable performance of swimmer Michael Phelps; won another Gold in Women's Softball; and came out on top in both Men's and Women's individual Gymnastics. And there's still lots of competition to come.

Perhaps the most closely watched results of this Olympics have been those of Team USA, dubbed "The Dream Team." Filled with players from the NBA, the team's had a tough go of it, currently with a 3 wins, 2 loss record. They're still in the Gold medal hunt and will take on top seeded Spain (led by Pau Gasol) in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon in Greece. There's a lot of pressure on Team USA, but they have plenty of fans in the States.

One of those fans is illustrator Greg Horn. You know him best for his cover work on a large number of Marvel comic books. Those ultra sexy covers for "Emma Frost" and "Elektra" by Horn are hard to miss on any comic stand. Horn is also a successful commercial artist, having produced art for a wide variety of companies including Allstate Insurance, the official sponsor of USA Basketball. Horn painted the official US Olympic Basketball Team Picture seen in numerous magazines and newspapers, including USA Today and Newsweek. CBR News caught up with Horn to learn more about how he landed the gig and what hoops he had to jump through to complete it.

"It turns out the art director at Nike is best buds with the art director at Allstate," Horn told CBR News when asked how he got the job. "I did some fairly difficult edits (and by 'fairly' difficult, I mean really f#@kin' hard!) on the Lebron James billboard with Nike, and I guess I impressed them pretty well. They passed my name onto Allstate, and that is how I got the job painting the 2004 US Olympic Basketball team!"

Clearly Horn's excited about the work he's completed, but it's certainly not been one of the artist's easiest jobs.

"I was first contacted to do the Olympics gig way back in March," said Horn. "At this time, we had 11 players and all was perfect! After I got on board, however, the players started jumping off the ship left and right due to a variety of concerns (mostly security reasons). I ended up in a holding pattern for 3 months waiting for a final roster. I had to keep a two-week hole in my schedule at all times, just in case

The original sketched design Horn submitted to Allstate.
somebody said 'go!.' Then, I got a call that was really distressing -- Allstate informed me that the final roster would be announced by the Olympic committee on July 9th and the final painting would be due a week later! Everybody knew we could not complete a painting with this much detail and likenesses in a week.

"The client was getting nervous, and it was looking like pandemonium was going to set in, but I came up with this great idea just in time: first, I'd paint the sky, Parthenon and rocks without any players at all. Then I'd paint the jerseys and shorts onto a different layer. Then, as the players were announced, I could simply paint them right into their outfits. Definitely the most awkward painting I've ever attempted, but it worked perfectly. Anyway, I turned the painting in right on time, and my contact tells me that the 3 page gatefold in Sports Illustrated (August 23) is one of the best ads they've ever seen. I'm gonna start cranking up my quote machine any minute!"

Horn's done a number of high-profile work for major corporations, but this project ranks up there as one of the biggest. It's not often an artist who originated in comics gets to see their work in USA Today, a moment which Horn described for us.

"Holy crap! That was awesome! People were bringing me newspapers at Wizard Chicago for signing -- it was the best. This is certainly the highest profile project I've worked on. The Ringling Bros circus poster was close, but the world-wide recognition factor of the Olympics just can't be beat."

For those interested in seeing the US Olympic Team in print, here's a list of places you can check out.

  • USAToday 8/13

  • Sports Illustrated 8/16

  • Newsweek 8/16

  • Sports Illustrated (3 page gatefold) 8/23

  • ESPN 8/23

  • US News & World Report 8/30

  • Sporting News 8/30

  • TIME 8/30

The image went through a number of changes over the months it took Horn to create it. There's even a darker picture taken in the moonlight instead of the more light and sunny image seen in the advertisements.

An earlier version of the Olympic Team Picture.
"The original concept for the poster was much more aggressive and dark," said Horn. "My first approved sketch had the guys right up in your face with a 'None will pass' attitude. It was awesome! This is back when we thought the team would be very different (with the original players like Shaq, Garnett, Jason Kidd, etc.). The whole design process is detailed in a feature included in my art book. Anyway, as more guys dropped off the team, it seemed like the redesigns were getting progressively less aggresive until finally we have the camera pulled way back showing the players from head to toe. I tried one last ditch effort to give the painting some grit, some drama - you know, one teensy ounce of emotion - by painting the night time sky with the dramatically back-lit clouds. But even that didn't make the cut. Anyway, the final painting is a great presentation shot of the basketball team and I am delighted with the outcome (and so is Allstate). I just think it could have been something way more special. It could have been, dare I say it, senses shattering!"

The art book Horn mentioned above is coming next month from Image Comics, titled "The Art of Greg Horn."

"'The Art of Greg Horn' collects my work from Marvel and independent comic companies that most everyone is familiar with," Horn said, describing the contents of the book. "It will also collect a lot of my art that most people may have missed. As the regular artist on XBOX magazine for almost two years and the 'sort of regular artist' on 100% Playstation mag and PCGAMER for the same time, I illustrated just about any popular video game you can think of. Then there are the advertising jobs I've done for Sony, Nike, Universal Studios, Bacardi, and of course, the Ringling and Olympics stuff will be in there, too."

Also included in the book will be a number of features on interior work Horn has completed, a painting tutorial and an interesting little story about Horn's childhood comic book, "The Justifiers."

Putting together the art book was no easy task as Horn had to track down permission to reprint most all of the artwork included in the book.

"My book has a tremendous amount of licensed properties in it (around 30) from comics and video games mostly. I decided to get permission on some of the more high-end stuff, and then it turned into getting permission for everything! I thought it would be fun to give all these companies the heads up on my project. It was really not fun. In fact it was one of the worst experiences of my life! The whole excruciating process took nearly 6 months. The New Line permission was the toughest-just by itself it took 4 months! Apparently they are very protective of some film called 'Lord of the Rings.' Anyway, I think the final list is mind-blowing."

Horn obtained permissions from a whole host of companies including Nike, Sony, Microsoft, Universal Vivendi, Activision and also seven comics publishers, including Marvel.

The book has been slightly delayed, though, and should be in stores September 22nd.

"The delay on the book is purely an issue of quality," said Horn. "Essentially, I delayed the book just long enough to get the Olympics piece in, and some really cool paintings I did for Wizard recently. Also, every single page of this book has its own design, and that ate a lot more time than I was expecting.

"I figure this book is going to end up on the desks of art directors, editors, and fans - and I want it to be the best it can possibly be. Who knows, this may be my only opportunity to put a book like this together-I've got to make every page count!"

Horn won't be taking too much time off to enjoy the Olympics, though, as he has a busy schedule ahead. He'll be contributing the covers to all three Wizard publications next month: Wizard X, Toyfare and Inquest Gamer. He's also produced interiors for "Daredevil" #65, the Daredevil anniversary issue in a story written by Brian Bendis.

"The 'Daredevil' interiors are a short story I've put together with Brian Bendis. Matt Murdock's identity has been revealed, and in this story, we are seeing the incident through Spiderman's eyes. There's one piece in there that I'm exceptionally happy about where DD is lost in thought on a rooftop and Spidey stands behind him not knowing what to say. It's raining and reminds me of the ending scene from 'Blade Runner.'"

Horn's work in comics is mostly limited to single-page projects for now. The advertising and gaming jobs have kept Horn from starting a regular comic with interiors. He'd like to get back to it one day, though. That includes his creator owned series, "J.U.D.G.E.," where most comic fans got their introduction to Horn's art. A second series was schedule, then cancelled.

"The second 'J.U.D.G.E.' series was preempted by my work with Marvel comics," said Horn. "I had been trying to break into the mainstream for 11 years, and when Joe offered me a chance at Marvel, I couldn't resist. I'm also hoping for a time in the future when the climate is a little better for indy books. It's freakin' tough out there right now! My hat goes off to anyone out there doing their own thing - it's a real gamble these days.

 
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